By Craig S.
Rhode Island is at its best in October; Newport has its Oktoberfest and pumpkin flavored beers come out of the woodworks. Stressed out college students are eagerly waiting midterm grades. And finally, muzzleloader and shotgun deer season is just around the corner. And that has me trying out some hearing protection for shooting. Yes, this is a review of hearing protection products…three in fact. If you’re looking for a sexy girl with an AR, a passionate rant about the right to keep and bear arms or some harebrained home defense strategy like Joe Biden’s “Just shoot the ceiling twice with a double barreled shotgun” plan, please press the back button. Otherwise, come on in . . .
Hearing protection, along with eye protection is always something that tends to get little airtime. Some people think the products out there just don’t change over time. That’s partially correct. The market hasn’t evolved at the rate guns and ammo have, but hearing protection has became much more advanced in recent years. And ear pro is extremely important. Every public or private gun range requires it, at least the ones I know, and every shooter and bystander should plug their ears at all times when in the presence of gunfire.
The three products covered here are Champion Hearing Protection Foam Ear Plugs (what I call “five cent throwaways”) and two from SensGard; the SG26 (noise reduction rating of 26 decibels) and SG31 (if you guessed that the noise reduction rating of these babies is 31 decibels, you’re correct). I’ve been using the Champion ear plugs for the last year and a half and I have previously felt that they were better than adequate when it came to any firearm that’s .30 caliber or smaller rifle (.30-06, 7.62x54r, .303), a non-magnum handgun, and the standard 12-gauge shotgun with 2.75” shotshells. The SensGard plugs were new to me.
To test this troika of sound prevention, I needed something relatively loud. Not something that would shake the snow off a pine tree by the power of its Thu’um, but not something that sounds like an unruly squirrel rustling in the leaves. The answer was simple; a M91/30, the 7.62x54r bargain basement deal Mosin that won the Great Patriotic War. In my experience, my M91/30 is a little louder than a .303 SMLE No. 1 MkIII*, much louder than a 7.62×39 AK and is noticeably quieter than .30-06 deer rifle with a 24” barrel. It’s right in the middle in terms of loudness when it comes to .30 caliber rifles and most People of the Gun own some sort of .30 caliber rifle; anything above that is a head turner. The ammo I was using was 1950s production Bulgarian surplus; brass casing, Berdan primed, corrosive and fireball inducing in the right conditions. I ended up touching off about 70 shots for this review.
The first product I tried was the SG26 (about $25). They’re similar to headphones; they adjust by pushing the two halves either closer together or farther apart. When I tried the SG26 on before arriving at the range, I noticed that loud sounds, like wind get converted into a sort of white noise. The foam part that goes into the ear go into the ear canal a little, but they don’t fully plug or block it.
The sound of the M91/30 and the ARs around me was much different than what I was used to. The rifles sounded more like they were being shot indoors rather than outdoors. However, the SG26s do provide adequate hearing protection. That is, when they actually stay on your head. Both the SG26 and the SG31 simply wouldn’t stay on my noggin. They tended to work loose, fall forward into my face and sometimes the Mosin’s recoil simply blew them out of my ears.
The prolonged recoil and noise didn’t affect me until about 30 shots into the SG26s. They got loose occasionally, but after 30 shots, these were so loose and shaky that they were completely ineffective. Having to put a loaded rifle down to repeatedly adjust hearing protection is unacceptable and a potential way to get in trouble with a range officer. Luckily, no one noticed or mentioned my issues with the SensGards.
To their credit, both of the SensGard models I tried are adequate in my opinion for light shooting, such as rimfire, hunting or emptying out a carry pistol’s magazine. But they were completely inadequate for sustained centerfire shooting, especially from a standing position. These things would simply not stay on my head. SensGard claims on the package that these allow the user to engage in conversation and hear other sounds, i.e. the sounds of animals or people talking. After about 35 shots with the SG26s, I went back to my truck and inserted the old reliable Champion ear plugs.
The biggest benefit (and downfall) of traditional ear plugs is how they’re inserted into the ear. Roll – don’t squish – the narrow part of the plugs, lick them, then stick them into the ear canal. If done properly, the stoppels will expand inside the ear canal and form a solid barrier against sound. In my case, the plugs go so far in and form such a good seal that I always end up pulling earwax out of my head when I remove them. Speaking of, the earplugs’ other downside is that they are not easy to remove and re-insert. They also inhibit conversations and ambient sounds. I’m very satisfied with Champion earplugs for shooting at the range, but they simply block out too many sounds to be effective for hunting.
The SG31s (about $32) were a joke. I fired a dozen shots with them and after each one, I had to readjust them in my ear. The level of hearing protection doesn’t seem any better than the SG26s. Five decibels simply isn’t enough of an improvement to warrant another model in my experience when dealing with firearms. Firearms simply are too loud to notice a difference in five decibels.
Overall, I give the SensGard products a C+. They do reduce the sounds of gunfire and they allow the user to hear ambient sounds. However, for my head, they wouldn’t stay on and that’s too much of a distraction and safety hazard to be effective enough for me. I was lucky that no one had a REAL rifle at the range – something like a .300 Winchester Magnum or a .338 Lapua Magnum. So I’ll stick to my Champion plugs, but understand that earplugs won’t work for everyone. The right answer, in short, is to find out what works for you. Shoot well and shoot safely.